Twenty years ago I had lunch with an acquaintance who was then one of the most senior ad land figures in the UK. I had been in PR for about ten years and had enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside ad creatives, film makers and planners. My first love had been film, loved visual art, design and photography. I asked his advice on switching from PR to advertising. He told me to stay put – “In ten years ad guys will be wanting to switch to PR” he said.
I recalled that conversation as I sat waiting to present the Golds and Grand Prix at Eurobest in Lisbon on Friday night. Having chaired the jury, I knew that PR agency entries had been relatively few, and only one (Swedish) had made it Gold award status. Despite our disappointment at that fact, my team of fellow PR agency heads and creative leads enjoyed our two days of studying the work and debating the relative merits. The Grand Prix winner was a great PR campaign, even if a PR agency had been nowhere near it.
I think it is less that the ad guys are switching to PR – though some are, including on my team - more that they are evolving to add it to their already formidable arsenal of disciplines. Another platform for their creative ideas. And in some cases, because we vacate the space – creatively, not bothering to enter or turn up at Eurobest for example – they are colonising PR.
Here are a few reflections.
1. The ad guys look like they love what they do
When ad folk, particularly the creatives, take the stage to collect an award, its like The Rolling Stones at the end of a gig. They bounce. They dance. They hug. They punch the air. There is joy! Celebration! They love what they do. They create beautiful pictures, film, stories, art. You have to admire that.
Are we as passionate about our creative work? We need to be.
2. Our ” art” isn’t the same
Though if we are serious about content creation and engaging storytelling it needs to start being.
We are more about ideas that others bring to life, or from an ad industry perspective (see my Dumb Ways To Die story in previous posts) we are the people who implement ad agency creative ideas. And they are starting to think, given the power of some of those ideas to burst and pop across multiple channels, that they can do that themselves. If that is what our clients chose, it is our fault.
Digital and social media has to a certain extent levelled the playing field for us and advertising. Particularly goven our heritage of dialogue. But where are the creative technologists, the creative film making talent, the pictorial poets in our industry to help bring our ideas to life. They are elsewhere. We can and must bring in more true creatives, creatives who push the boundaries and challenge the – our – status quo, push our clients into more creative bravery as the ad agencies are already doing. But they need people with the skills to bring their creative ideas to life.
And don’t assume that ad folk are not learning the dialogue game. In some cases they are overtaking us.
3. There has never been a better time to be in PR/There has never been a more challenging time to be in PR (delete as appropriate).
When the press and broadcast media dominated our lives (only really in politics does it still, and with demographic change and declining trust in newspapers as well as politicians, even that is changing) we had the public relations world pretty much to ourselves. We were the publicists, the spin doctors, the reputation managers. We were powerful.
But media consumption patterns have changed dramatically in just a decade, and will accelerate as Gen Z comes of age. In the Engagement Era, the engagers will thrive.
Newspaper sales are shrinking. The number of journalists working in news media is shrinking. On the other hand the number of channels to reach and engage with influencers, consumers and citizens is exploding. The key now is engagement, not broadcasting, so it requires a different approach, and different skills and recruitment protocols, but not a crisis of self confidence in our industry.
4. You have to be in it to win it.
I have been passionate about Cannes since my first experience as a juror and Cannes Lions winner. But it goes way beyond the awards. Cannes, and Eurobest, are unique opportunities to bring together creatives from across the marcomms mix, to see brilliant work, to listen to and exchange ideas and experiences. To be inspired and challenged.
We have some great PR industry thought leadership events, in the UK and other local markets, and internationally via Paul Holmes and now a refreshed ICCO. But PR does not exist in a vacuum. Increasingly we are part of an integrated broader industry and ideas maelstrom.
We need more PR firms and PR ideas people to be at Cannes and Eurobest, as well as taking part in the awards.
5. Our future is where Art meets Science
I have said it many times and saw the same chart I present in talks and lectures in an ad agency presentation. For us the science is Big Data and Creative Technology. Collectively as an industry we lack the firepower of the ad agencies. We are trailing in this particular Space Race. We need to prove to CMOs that we are about more than “free media” and “raising awareness”. They want more science, more insights, more evidence in return for their marketing money.